Every time I’m sitting in my dentist’s office impatiently waiting for the dreaded drillmaster, I browse through Reader’s Digest. My fingers seem to automatically flip to “Laughter is the Best Medicine” for some comic relief from my impending doom. Lee, a poker player from Florida, recently e-mailed me, suggesting an alternative “medicine.”
“Tom, I’ve met you and have bought two of your books on hold’em,” he began. “I’m going into the hospital for major surgery and will be laid up for about three months. I’m going to play a lot of online poker while I’m recuperating, and would appreciate any advice you can give me on how to play online cash games and tournaments. Thanks, and I hope to see you at the World Series next year.” After wishing Lee a successful surgery, I added some online advice.
Whether you’re playing hold’em or stud, the game is still the same online, Lee, but it moves at a much faster pace. You have to act within a specified time limit or the cyber dealer will fold your hand, so be prepared to act faster than you ordinarily might play in a brick-and-mortar casino. One advantage of playing online is that you can record notes and receive hand histories of your opponents, so that you can get a better idea of the strategies they’re using in the game. You aren’t able to look your opponents in the eyes like you can in a regular casino, but you can still watch the hands they are turning over and get a good picture of their playing styles.
Online tournaments play the same as they do in brick-and-mortar casinos, but they are structured quite a bit differently. You generally start with more chips. One online casino usually gives you $1,500 in tournament chips to start, and more than that in the bigger events. To start, the blinds are small in relation to the starting chips. For that reason, blind or ante stealing is not worth the risk during the first few levels of play, especially in no-limit hold’em tournaments. Many players ignore this piece of advice and gamble much more than they should in the early stages of online tournaments. Some of these gamblers accumulate lots of chips early, but most of them eventually crash and burn.
With careful play in the early stages, you have a good chance of doubling up by the first break, which comes one hour after the tournament starts. Remember, too, that the limits go up about every 20 minutes, which is faster than they rise in many brick-and-mortar casinos. At about level five or six, the pace of play picks up, and from level seven onward, you have to start winning more pots just to stay alive in the tournament. This translates to taking more risks. At these levels, look for opportunities to be the aggressor. Usually raise when you are the first player to enter the pot. Play your position strongly, but don’t get sucked into playing garbage hands.
Don’t panic if the cards don’t come your way. Wait for the blinds if you have to. Always remember this advice about Lady Luck: You cannot manufacture a hand that doesn’t exist. You cannot force that fickle lady to smile on you. But if she does, and if you have the patience and skill to outlast the field, we’ll surely meet in the winner’s circle as soon as you have recuperated.
Lee didn’t tell me whether he’s a rank beginner at no-limit hold’em or a limit player who wants to give no-limit hold’em a try. In any case, Brad Daugherty and I have written a new book, No-Limit Texas Hold’em, that should help him in his online and brick-and-mortar casino tournament and cash game play. Subtitled “The New Player’s Guide to Poker’s Biggest Game,” our book covers how to shift your thinking when you’re moving from limit hold’em to no-limit hold’em, followed by the four major no-limit hold’em skills you must master to become a winner at the game. We present lots of practice hands designed to help new players select, bet, and play the best hands before and after the flop. And to strengthen our chapter on how to bluff, we include practice hands that illustrate different types of bluffing scenarios. Since no-limit hold’em is now being spread as a cash game in most online casinos, we wrote a section on how to play small online games with blinds as small as 50 cents-$1. And Brad added a special chapter titled “Brad’s Crash Course in No-Limit Hold’em for Total Beginners” to guide complete novices through the game. Together with our publishing partner, Dana Smith, we had a ball writing this book. If you’re new to no-limit hold’em, I hope you’ll send me a note to let me know how you like it..
Now, Lee, allow me to thank you for bringing to my attention an alternative “medicine.” The next time I have a dentist’s appointment, I think I’ll take my laptop along with me.